The Preservation and Promotion of Namibian Culture


By John Ndadala Walenga Allow me to use this opportunity to share with you what I regard as the most neglected area of our society. First and foremost I am for simple ideas. And more on the practical side of things, I hardly visit any country without finding out what makes their people tick. Having visited many countries around the world, I am impressed mostly by, among others, Asian cultures. Let me use China and Singapore as a case study. Culture is their main weapon against any outside forces. It is visibly depicted in their daily lives, i.e. food, dress and dancing. And they are easily available, unlike in our case. What I admire most is the fact that the private and public sectors in many countries have taken a lead in the revival of their cultures. Again, the same cannot be said about our country. It hurts. Culture is a tool for coping with as well as creating awareness and learning. It underpins all human activities, and explains much of our behaviour. It is like a beautiful jewel; hold it to the light, turn it and it reveals its multiple dimensions. Culture is a distinctively human capacity for adapting to circumstance and transmitting this coping skill and knowledge to subsequent generations. Culture gives people a sense – culture promotes a sense of group identity of who they are, of belonging, of how they should behave, and what they should be doing. Culture impacts behaviour, morale and productivity at work as well, and includes values and patterns that influence community attitudes and actions. The concept has become the context to explain politics, economics, progress and even failures. Language is something acquired from your mother without spending a single cent. “Anoo! Elaka Oha li yamwa”. Secondly, our language skills are sharpened within the community in which we are brought up. That can be the house, village or country. Today things have changed. Independence babies have got their own language which is only best understood by them. Who has not been referred to as Ozali or Okatopi? It is true what one African has observed when he said “Shitunda nohedhi Shilongo nomukalo gwasho”. We have a variety of delicacies in our country. Some people take pride in eating Omafuma, Donkey, Ombwa, Hippo, Omahangu, Ngandu, !Nara, Skerp Pand, Snakes, etc. These are just some of the Namibian delicacies. Why are they not readily available in our own respective communities. Why should we laugh and dehumidify those who eat what we regard as taboo in our cultures? What went wrong today? Since time immemorial, we have had clothes which are worn for different occasions. Something black has always represented a death situation. Traditional Dress a Symbol of Power In my young life, there was always a difference between a hat with an ostrich feather (Ohala) and without. Nowadays, the younger generations do not know the difference between the two. Ohala is a symbol of power and seniority in some cultures. In another culture a chief ceases to be a chief if you are caught by your subjects without Muchila. Today’s younger generation is reducing both Ohala and Muchila into a fashion statement. I personally do not have a problem with Ohala becoming a fashion if it’s a sign to identify the main person at a given function. But I am totally against people, whether young or old, wearing Ohala at traditional gatherings as a fashion. It is one thing to wear it to signify your senior role at any given occasion. The Importance of Namibian Traditional Songs Traditional songs have always been part of almost all human activities in Namibia. Be it ceremonial Festivities, Religion, Rituals, Wars, Births, Games, Love and Death always has a unique vocal context. It is the ground of our own Dignity, Pride, Spirituality and Character as people, of Unity in Diversity. Traditional songs were not merely for enjoyment but a portrayal of our common Namibianity as our individuality. It stimulates our thoughts and actions and uplifts us in fine-tuning our identity and morality. It surpasses political differences and stubborn social divisions. These songs capture the imagination patriotically and are potentially unifying. They can lift us to a wonderful feeling of joy and happiness. A feeling that binds us together by a national desire for the collection, documentation, processing preservation and distribution. Traditional songs are thus very important as they interpret and express our Namibian experiences and our everyday life, and should be geared towards inspiring and empowering future generations. Thus, traditional songs have always been our answer to modern libraries. These songs are a necessary and innovative way of mobilizing us to build on our heritage of different songs which we have between us, both old and young in our country. We are blessed with various songs that emphasize our national image and add value to our lives. These will always be a beneficial resource of our identity. It is also imperative that Namibian traditional instruments that accompany these songs should be collected, taught in our schools and preserved: These are, for example: Silimba, Okambulumbumbwa, !!Namen, Ohiva, Eyakasha, Trompie, Sisande, to mention a few. As a country, we should make it our mission to record and document our traditional songs in modern technology. The main reason why we have upcoming Namibian artists emulating and recording music from elsewhere, is simply because of the absence of our own raw materials, and that is traditional songs. It is my contention that if the latter is not addressed, the upcoming artists will continue to tap from what is available, and that is foreign traditional songs. The end result is that the next generation will be totally lost culturally. The bottom line is our commercial music should tap from our own traditional songs. To me that is the only way we can give an identity and give birth to truly Namibian music. Your Royal Highness, there is no other magic formula than that. The raw material is found deep in our villages. We need to record and document the traditional songs as they are originally sung and danced. We can only get it from the elderly who are not getting any younger. In order for anyone to accomplish that, one has to travel the length and breadth of the country to do justice to same. The people must be recorded in the comfort of their homes and villages. According to my calculations, there are ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚±34 vernaculars, in Namibia. Living out any one will amount to being tribalistic. The good news is: there is a team of Namibians ready to embark upon such an undertaking. Long before I was born, people used to converge after dinner. Boys and men would go kOshinyanga around the fire. Girls would join their mothers kelugo. Again surrounding Omasiga. In both cases, the objective was one, to pass on wisdom. That is where a boy is taught what it means to be a man. Taught kutya a man is incomplete ngele kuna egumbo. Told Kutya Omukatalume ihayi moohapu. To an extent that you will always be sidelined and by-passed for any leadership role in your community. Girls are taught how to behave around boys. Your feminity is questionable if you don’t know how to cook. The truth is, we still have iinyanga, nomalugo, ashike nee! Kayi na ongushu. The latter is partly due to our busy schedules. And to some, Uumbashu have totally taken over. So much so that our houses have become lukumbeti lwandjuhwa lwa lalwa kalu uhalwa. In an African culture you announce your arrival from a distance either by clearing your throat or clapping your hands. As a child, you don’t announce your departure to your parents wu li kondje, you ask for permission well in advance before you embark on your ego trip. Today kids even greet adults in standing position without clapping hands! At oxungi, is where boys and girls as siblings are taught to respect that only one of them will inherit or, should I say, Vehongua nokuraerua Kutya oune makarumata Otjihavero, Okati Nekori raihe. The same person will, in addition, be given Ongobe Yomuriro. Around Omuriro, boys are taught how to treat a woman, and that a woman is not to be turned into a punching bag. If you were to ask me as to who is better-placed to see to it that our traditional songs are recorded and documented in modern technology, I would look no further than here. You are the custodians of our traditional norms and values. You are the heartbeat of the spirit of our forefathers. But the question is: Do we know each other’s cultures? Can we really respect each other if we do not know each other culturally? *This was a paper which John Walenga delivered during the meeting of Namibian traditional leaders earlier this month.